While many people experience tiredness during the day, but this is not the same as excessive sleepiness.
Excessive sleepiness or hypersomnia refers to a condition characterized by recurrent episodes of excessive sleepiness during the day or prolonged nighttime sleep sessions.
People with excessive sleepiness are prone to repeated napping throughout the day, often at inappropriate times such as during work or in the middle of a conversation, and the naps do little to provide them with relief.
People with excessive sleepiness often find it very difficult to awaken from a long sleep and may manifest other symptoms such as irritability, mental confusion, decreased energy, and memory loss. There are several possible causes for excessive sleepiness.
There are several possible causes for excessive sleepiness
Most of them tend to cause disturbances in sleep that often go undetected: the person thinks they are getting enough sleep, but even though they are in bed they are not sleeping soundly.
Possible causes of excessive sleepiness include:
- Primary sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea.
- Dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.
- Drug or alcohol abuse.
- Brain tumor.
- Head trauma or other central nervous system injury.
- Certain medications, or withdrawal from some medications.
- Medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, depression, encephalitis, epilepsy, or obesity may contribute to the disorder.
- Genetic predisposition to hypersomnia.
- Idiopathic hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness for which there is no known cause (typically affects adolescents and young adults).
- Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes recurrent hypersomnia.
The main symptom of excessive sleepiness is a pathological need for sleep during the day despite enough sleep time at night.
Often, it is accompanied by a need for extended sleep time at night. The hallmark of excessive sleepiness is repeated bouts of napping during the day, often at inappropriate times. These naps come on suddenly and the person may feel powerless to prevent it. They rarely provide any relief and tend to continue throughout the day.
If you find yourself nodding off several times during the day, despite your best efforts to stay awake, you may have hypersomnia.
If you are not spending enough time in bed at night: You are not considered hypersomnic; instead you are just sleep deprived and you need to get more sleep.
If you are spending enough time in bed at night: If you find that you can't sleep or you wake repeatedly throughout the night, this is called insomnia and the treatments for this condition are different than those for excessive sleepiness.
Treatments for excessive sleepiness involve treating the underlying causes of sleep disturbance and alleviating the symptoms
Behavioral changes may also help sleep some people, such as maintaining regular sleep habits and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
Patients with sleep apnea can use a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) to help keep their airway open at night.
You can reduce your risk factors for the diseases that may cause excessive sleepiness by not abusing drugs or alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight.
Also, practicing good sleep hygiene may make it less likely for you to experience daytime sleepiness. Go to sleep at the same time each night, avoid napping during the day and don't take on a job that requires shift work if you can help it.
If you notice yourself falling asleep at inappropriate or dangerous times (such as while driving) despite getting what should be a normal amount of sleep, you should see your doctor to be evaluated. It is important to find out if you have an underlying neurological condition that could be life-threatening. It is also good to find out if you have a primary sleep disturbance that may be treatable with medication.
The sleepiness is often accompanied by changes in mood and cognition such as:
- Decreased energy
- Slow thinking and speech
- Loss of appetite
- Memory difficulty
These changes along with the tendency to nap at inappropriate times can have a negative impact on a person's ability to hold a job and maintain social and familial obligations.